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Reflecting on the Life and Death of George Floyd, One Year Later

Posted on 5/25/2021 2:34:00 PM

One year since George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, faculty and staff reflect on the event that ignited massive civil rights protests in America and around the globe. Where are we now, on the anniversary of one of this century’s most momentous cultural events—and what remains to be done?

Angela N. Campbell, PhD, Vice President of Mission, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and Student Engagement

George Floyd’s life mattered. I mourned George Floyd’s death and whispered his name, shaking my head with a broken heart, asking why. For me, George Floyd emblematized the lives of thousands of other Black men and boys whose lives were brutally cut short. Many of their names we will never know. I thought about them, their families, and communities robbed of life, shook to their cores, and changed forever. I perpetually asked, Why? Why can those charged to protect life refuse to value and respect Black lives? Why during the police interaction with George Floyd could he not be seen as a brother, father, son, or friend?

Last summer I asked myself what I could do to realize racial equity and demand justice for BIPOC communities. I thought about my locus of control and how I could use my voice and position to make a difference. I brought people together in my former institution to challenge ourselves in the real work of racial equity. I prayed, reflected, meditated, and envisioned new possibilities of real change by listening to the voices of young people, students, families, and community activists. I shifted my mindset from “I” to “we” and sought multiracial, intersectional, and cross-divisional solidarity. We kept racial justice work top of mind and deepened our understanding of historical and contemporary iterations of systemic racism.

I worked with dynamic young people who were not only knowledgeable about the issues, but also challenged many of us who believed ourselves to be “woke” and “doing the work.” It was a good, healthy, and humbling struggle of challenging ourselves to make a difference that could be seen, heard, and felt long after we leave our stations. Most assuredly, George Floyd’s death transformed me. His death transformed the nation and the world, shaking us into a deeper consciousness, a movement beyond the hashtags. Let’s use this first-year anniversary to commit ourselves to transforming the systems that perpetuate racism and realize racial equity and our connected purpose in a truly multiracial, intersectional beloved community.

Amy Lee Persichetti, EdD, Assistant Professor, English

As it turns out, George Floyd suffered even longer than we originally thought. Eight minutes and 46 seconds—already an impossibly long period—was actually 9 minutes and 29 seconds. This revelation seems strangely appropriate to me; America has never succeeded in acknowledging the full scope or duration of the pain experienced by Blacks in America. In the Writing classroom we create space to write about our own experiences living as our unique selves in this world, and when my own words fail me, I turn to the greats—Diaz, Morrison, Wright, Hayden—to describe the complexities of identity in America. What could I possibly say to my students in the face of such rabid and endemic hatred?

It is in this search that I found the sentiment that I wanted to communicate to all of my students this year, particularly my Black students, who live in a much different world than I do in ways that I am trying hard to truly hear and understand. When I see yet another BIPOC person unjustly incarcerated, brutalized, separated from their children, falsely accused, or murdered, I want to tell them, as James Baldwin does, “Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity.” 

Vivian Smith, PhD, Chair and Associate Professor, Criminology

If you asked about my thoughts a year after George Floyd’s killing, my response would be, “I’m still processing … ” What made the killing of this Black man any different from others? Was it the difference in the volume of cell phone videos and images provided by citizens, police, and stores’ camera footage? Was it the expressionless look on the officer’s face as he pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck? Or, the cries for his mother that George Floyd struggled to voice as he took his last breath? Perhaps it was all of that and much more. 

As a criminologist, I understand the sociological implications of racism. As a wife and a mother, I grapple with my anguish over the killings and mistreatment of Black people. As a result of this ongoing racial reckoning, a state of hypervigilance has inundated our social circles, workspaces, and classrooms. And while some may receive that with disdain, there is a fortifying sense that we must be aware and recognize the humanity of Black people before we can assert that “we care for all.” As a parent, a year later, I will continue to offset the messages flooding my children’s psyche that their history, feelings, and humanity are transactional and not inalienable rights.

Ronald W. Whitaker II, PhD, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean, School of Education, and Director, Center for Urban Education, Equity and, Improvement

The conviction of Derek Chauvin was not justice, but rather, it was one aspect of accountability. How can Chauvin’s conviction be justice, when Floyd’s body has been decomposing in his casket for close to a year, his family is still grieving, and his children will live the rest of their lives without their father? Similarly, our language around justice within higher educational milieus, should not equate to highlighting a few “diversity hires,” a newly approved DEI plan, or mandatory anti-racist and equity webinars and/or workshops. No, that’s not justice! Rather, true justice is being completely honest and transparent about the historical and contemporary racist structures that continue to target students and faculty of color, and then taking the necessary holistic action steps to let “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing  stream” (Amos 5:24) within our respective colleges and universities!

Excerpted from “Lest We Be Fooled, As We Reflect on the One-Year Anniversary of George Floyd’s Murder,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education, coauthored with Adriel A. Hilton, PhD, vice chancellor for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, at Southern University at New Orleans.